– And thieving in the Kleptocracy
Yes, my own July-August holidays laziness kicks in here today, but with a purpose. I’m using the late Charlie de Florimonte’s beautiful nostalgic descriptions of his boyhood days in his Kitty of the forties and fifties to reminisce on what children – especially boys – used to do during the long July – August school holidays.
It’s also my way of welcoming back to the Mudland, the nostalgia man Godfrey Chin. Yes, Godfrey says he’s back to stay. Blue book or no blue book.
Now note that in my school days, we didn’t really use the word “vacation”. And we certainly would have been ashamed – or crazy – to use the word “summer” to describe July-August.
The long school holidays back then meant treats and out-of-town excursions. Country-based children would also “spent time” in Georgetown giving rise to the expression “country-come-to-town”. Raiding trees, hunting, fishing, cricket, football – the outdoors characterized the long holidays. So for Godfrey and today’s youth, I’ll now reproduce, wholesale, a generous serving of Charlie “Bonnie Paragraph” de Florimonte’s days in Kitty. (But I must remind Godfrey and those Guyanese over sixty, especially, that through those old-days reminiscences conjure up love, longing and warm-hearted nostalgia for “us”, the young dot.com generation of today will struggle to appreciate the beauty of the humility of times and events past.
“Then there was hopscotch, but this was played mainly by girls even though some boys indulged and enjoyed playing with the girls.
“As I write this piece in the middle of the August school holidays, I wonder how our youths will employ their endless leisure hours. True, like in my time, there is cricket and football, but the open ‘spaces that were abundant in my youth have all gone, victims of urban development. Kids now have to trek long distances to the National Park or one of the several private cricket grounds to play either game.
“In the 1940’s a large plot of land was donated to the children of Kitty by a Mr. Farnum, to be used as a playing field. This is the playing field located in Subryanville. This facility, in its early days saw the likes Ken Farnum of Barbados, Laddie Lewis, Rocky McPherson and a host of other cyclists and athletes performing there.
“However, in the last couple of years the City Council for a time, made it into the dump site and now the surface is dangerous and unusable.”
The games we used to play
“I write this piece with a great feeling of nostalgia. As I write, school is out for the holidays, and I wonder what games or other past-times the youngsters, home for the long holidays, will indulge in.
“I remember that only a few short decades ago, we youngster played marbles in all its variations we made ‘buck tops’ from ‘kooroo’ seeds, we made and sailed toy boats along the numerous canals that criss-crossed our village of Kitty, we had great fun with sling-shots, there was the spinner with which we played the mildly dangerous sport of ‘rake’. And there were games of ‘Saul Pen’ and hopscotch not forgetting the ever popular cush and chink where the stake was buttons.
“Marbles, in all of its variations, was endlessly fascinating and usually played for buttons. I will remember my father’s acute embarrassment one Remembrance Day, as he dressed in his best salara suit for the ex-Servicemen’s parade, only to find every button on his trousers, waistcoat and jacket gone… and so was I!
“We youngsters played ‘jummin’ with one player placing his ‘taa’ (marble) against a post with the object being that the other players, from an agreed distance, would try to hit it with his marble.
“Another marble game was ‘holes’. This was played by any number of youngsters. The game started by making three depressions a few feet apart and a straight line in front of and at right angles to the holes. The players then took turns rolling their marbles to the line and the player whose marble ended up nearest the line won the right to start the game.
“The object of the game was for each players to make three circuits of the holes, by sinking his marble in each hole in turn, and the quickest one to complete three circuits was the winner. However, any or all the players had the right to try to hit away another player’s marble, the farther the better, to prevent him from ‘sinking’ his marble in the holes. Again, at stake were buttons.
“Making and spinning ‘buck tops’ was a fine art mastered by just a few of us youngsters, and we made a fortune in buttons making them for less talented kids.
“First you had to get a kooroo seed. This was a very large fruit (of the awara family). We then drilled (or by some other ingenious means), created two holes (at the top and base) of the seed. This was to accommodate the pin on which the top would spin. This stem was inserted through the holes, made level with the top and allowed to protrude for about three inches out of the bottom hole. Any space around this stem was then carefully sealed with wax. Then, there-had to be another hole in the side of this hollowed sphere to make the top sing as it was spinning. We used various means to remove the kernel from the seed to ensure it was completely hollow. The most popular method was to leave it on an ants’ nest overnight after drilling the holes, and by morning the inside was as clean as a whistle.
“But to spin the top was an art one had to learn oneself. This required acquiring an old toothbrush handle with the hole at the end, and a length of strong string – preferably waxed. Some really creative youngsters used a piece of wallaba shingle and carefully pared it down to the required size and then drilled the hole. It was found that this was even more effective than the toothbrush handle.
“Now, the string was carefully wrapped around the stem of the top, then with controlled outward-motion the top was pushed away from the spinner along the string, to land upright on the stem spinning at incredible speed. Depending on the size of the singing hole, it emitted a pleasant whistle. 11lere were even bets (buttons) as to whose top ‘sang’ longer and ‘sweeter’.
“Boat-racing was another popular sport since the drainage canals were always full, especially after it rained heavily. Every street in the village had a trench (canal) along one side which served as a reservoir when the rains came and prevented the yards from flooding.
“…These joiner shops – and there were others besides Mr Barrow – were-equipped with jig saws where we could have made a wooden gun (long as in rifle or short as in six-shooter). We then completed the “weapon” with rubber bands and used ‘buck beads’ (Job’s tears) for ammunition. These little gadgets provided us boys with endless hours of enjoyment playing police and thief’ or cowboys and Indians, the Indians of course using improvised bows and arrows,
“This was a very popular past-time since the matinee fare, was Western films with such perennial stars as Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy among several ‘good’ cowboys fighting Geronimo and Cochise, two ‘bad’ Indians, for control of the American West.
“The sling-shot was another must for us during the holidays. You first had to get a suitable fork, and the best was obtained from the ever-present genip tree. We then had to find the nearest cycle repair shop — and there were several in the village like Mr. Estwick, “Fullup” and Rudolph -– and scrounge a discarded cycle inner tube which was then stripped into length. Finally an old shoe had to be found to retrieve the tongue.
“This old shoe tongue was cut properly with two holes opposite each other and two lengths of the rubber secured through the holes…
“The village boasted two bakeries, both owned and operated by Mr. Blosison. They baked only twice each week (Wednesday and Saturday), so early Fridays and Tuesdays, the strident cry of ‘Straight Finger Arthur’ could be heard around the village announcing that he had ‘staaale bread’ as he strove to unload the previous Saturday or Wednesday bakery output.
“We as children, enjoyed a wide assortment of baker shop cakes that are not seen these days, perhaps modern bakers have lost the art. We had rock and cassava buns, bull stones, white eyes, coconut biscuits, lemon biscuits, square cakes, chester and the ever-enjoyable jackass collar.
“At Mr. Found out who had a small cake shop on the corner of Alexander and Thomas streets, a glass of mauby or pine drink cost a cent, while a jackass collar was also a cent. But for a cent you could get a half and half. This consisted of half a glass of mauby or pine drink and half of a collar.”